“We’d love to come back and play again for you guys someday. This time with our own instruments. They sound completely different to this……Well, a little bit.”
Damian: For some reason, the hangover is always the worst on the Friday morning of Haldern. We think it has something to do with the mixing of beer from two different countries – the confectionary consumption may play a part too, damn you Haribo – but the search for a substantial breakfast always finds team Incendiary scattered around the village early in the morning like a bunch of newly awakened bears from hibernation with sore heads and rumbling stomachs. Friends of ours know well enough to steer clear of the team at this time but this year a buffet breakfast and the delightful addition of Lynchberg Lemonade to the menu of the Haldern Pop Bar meant that we were in fine fettle (or at least I was) by the time Renate Granate were soundchecking in the Haldern Pop Bar. In truth, I was the only member of the team that was around to see them – some members were forced into a trip to Oberhausen for reason’s best known to the German Rail Companies and the final member of our team, who shall remain nameless, had to make his way back to the tent to sort his head out – but I’m glad I made the effort. Renate Granate were a lot of fun. They’re a three piece power pop combo who are the kind of German answer to Feeder. There’s nothing particularly remarkable about them – although the singer has really short legs for such a tall man – but they were bright, spiky and sharp enough to entertain the mass of people that had managed to cram themselves into the bar. It felt like the band had a number of friends and family in attendance – which makes me wonder if they’re actually a local Haldern band – but nonetheless I had a lot of fun with them.
Next up, the hair factory that is Ben Caplan. My word, is this guy good or what? After the head nodding power pop of Renate Granate the thought of one man with an acoustic guitar singing tender folk songs wasn’t what I was looking forward to but the bar was packed so tight it seemed like a foolish errand to try and wriggle my way outside. Basically I was stuck. There was no escape. Thankfully, however, my fears were very, very quickly swept aside and within minutes I thought this Caplan guy was pretty good. “Here’s another old traditional folk song….what I wrote.” What I was enjoying was the sense of power and purpose to his songs and, more than anything, his delivery. Caplan’s growly, gravelly voice is one thing, but his ability to add a sense of drama, humour and theatricality into his performance – and it really was a performance – meant he got most of the crowd on his side pretty quickly. Then, when he asked a group of people to step outside or shut the fuck up (or words to that effect) he pretty much won everybody over. After that, well, we’d have all done handstands for him if he’d asked.
We laughed with him, we woah oh ohhed for him, we sang for him. Hell, we even screamed for him and, for one incredibly special moment the few hundred of us crammed into the Haldern Pop Bar collectively sighed for him. It was the single greatest noise I heard all weekend. As his fantastic set came to a close, we refused to let him go. The applause was deafening and seemingly unending and so he did the only thing he could to get us to stop. He jumped out of the window.
Don’t worry readers, it was a ground floor window and he stood out on the sill to play a final, albeit rather long, song to the amassed throng outside. The bar emptied quicker than you would think possible and so, as the crowd sang about some woman they’d only just heard of, I went to the bar to replenish myself. It was a truly outstanding show. How good is Ben Caplan? He’s Tom Waits good. Honestly, he was outstanding. I’ve found a new favourite.
Liquid levels replenished I decided to get some food, hoping to set me up for the day. Here’s a tip, don’t ask for the large kebab in Haldern’s pizzeria/kebab house. It’s simply ridiculous. Expecting something quite substantial, what I received was about the size of half a dustbin lid, and packed with enough meat, salad and sauce to feed half the campsite. It was extraordinary. It was quite tasty too, thankfully, but it was simply impossible to finish. By the time I’d wandered back to the campsite I had jaw ache. I was sweating profusely, partly from the weather and partly from the amount of meat my body was trying to find space for. They really should come with a health warning those things. As should the Tonstudio Keusgen.
Gott in Himmel, there’s nothing can prepare you for the atmosphere of the Tonstudio. I don’t mean the crowd, I simply mean the heat. How artists even manage to perform in that place is beyond me. The lack of oxygen is stifling, the heat causes everybody to crash to the floor, hoping in vain that the sweat running down their backs will cool them down and yet each year we persist in squeezing our way into this barn in order to catch a performance. This year, it was the turn of Douglas Dare, whose name sounds like the type of character I’d expect to find in those old fashioned war comics I used to read as a kid. As it turns out, young master Dare is the latest Erased Tapes signing, a label Incendiary has a great deal of time for. He also turns out to be incredibly young, incredibly polite and one hell of a piano player.
Richard: Fresh from the delights of Oberhausen, and unable to get into Ben Caplan, I consoled myself with trout and potatoes at a local restaurant. I do like the way the Germans and Poles cook trout, (try Pfifferlinge too, if you can). My first point of call was at the Keusgen Studio to see Douglas Dare, who has recently signed to Erased Tapes, one of the truly remarkable labels this last decade has thrown up. Damian's just mentioned the heat but I think it's worth reiterating just how bladdy hot that place is. I'd said to myself a couple of years back when I'd seen Nils Frähm perform in what was to all intents and purposes a group sauna masquerading as the Keusgen Studio that I wouldn't do the same thing ever again. The heat had me hallucinating last time around. But this being me, and this being Haldern, I found myself in the same queue to get in the studios with about 60 fellow sufferers. This had better be good: and luckily it was. It was extraordinary. Douglas Dare is a gauche, sylvan figure, who, given a fair wind, could be a big pop star. He's got an unusual air about him, equally puppyish and slightly nervous, but definitely driven and has a very clear idea about how he wants to communicate. His set was from his new EP Seven Hours, which (on later investigation) is a very fine record indeed. His delivery was the key here, there's an air of studied calm mixed with a sort of off kilter camp in his work, Barry Humphries camp at that, which nevertheless manages to win your over. The vibe hinted at a mix of Billy Mackenzie's wistfulness (especially when Billy Mac stripped down his Baroque gurglings, think of the quieter tracks on Wild and Lonely) and Marc Almond's quieter nods to Brel; these are torch songs, even though sometimes the subject matter (insomnia as in Seven Hours) isn't obvious torch song material. The audience got it immediately; this is an artist to trust, and a brilliant cover of PJ Harvey's White Chalk topped things off brilliantly.
Damian: We shouild add that Incendiary were lucky enough to witness some of his performance from the recording booth, (Robert, you’re a star!) which saved us from the worst of the heat and allowed us the unique possibility of hearing everything through the studio’s fantastic speaker set up. Dare’s intricate, heartfelt piano musings washed over us in crystal clarity and I have to say it was one of the most beautiful Haldern moments I’ve ever witnessed. It was just so relaxing and a weird point of calm and peace in amongst the usual madness of this festival weekend. Young Dare is simply a classy act. Precise, elegant piano playing backed with a voice of real charm and beauty. Erased tapes have uncovered a lad of immense talent here and we’ll be looking forward to delving into his EP in the coming weeks. Great stuff.
Once we stepped outside, into the blissful cold of 30 degree weather, we all split up in order to fulfill some official Incendiary business functions. These forced us to miss most of Bear’s Den’s set,and all of Ja, Panik and Sam Amidon but we’ve learnt over the years that the best way of surviving Haldern is to just go where you feel like heading at any given moment, for that’s where the true surprises lie. It’s best to think of the festival Zeit Plan as a rough outline rather than a strict timetable and if you try and rush back and forth to catch almost everything, you end up missing out on what makes this place so special, and that’s the atmosphere. Incendiary has made many friends at this festival over the years and sometimes we find it’s better to simply sit down, share a beer or two with friends and laugh a while, or have an impromptu photoshoot, whatever the case may be. Haldern’s trip is always a rather mystic one. It’s sometimes best not question why things happen, just embrace them and go along with things for the hell of it.
Having said all that, the whole team made sure we were right up front for Die Goldenen Zitroenen, who were wonderfully, deliriously bonkers. They look like a bunch of science teachers who’ve decided to form a punk band but their pastiche of Germany’s musical touchstones (think Can, DAF, Amon Duul, that kind of thing) is absolutely delightful. They’re part punk band, part art installation and their on stage antics are simply baffling. For starters, they simply refuse to stand still and never in all my years of gig going have I seen a band swap instruments as much as these guys did in half an hour. Only the singer remained a constant presence, the rest of them seemingly playing musical chairs around them. They were joyously daft, and incredibly entertaining. They dropped small toy pianos, they argued over who was playing what and when. At times it even felt like they were playing different songs from each other but none of that mattered because we were dancing along and grinning like idiots to it all. I especially liked the fact that one of the drummers seemed to get bored half way through and simply wandered off stage, never to return. And then the other one tripped over a bass guitar on his way off stage. It was that kind of gig. Fabulous.
Richard: One act I was never going to miss, was Die Goldenen Zitronen, whose LP Die Entstehung der Nacht is a favourite of mine; Incendiary saw them a few years back at the Paradiso and were totally blown away by their inventive, hard hitting punk "cabaret". Back then, the band wore a whole set of costumes, from nappies to wizards outfits to pickelhaubes. This time they all wore black suits except for one of the drummers who wore a black and white suit. All very Devo gone wrong, it must be said. Now I'd primed the rest of team Incendiary for this as at first glance this gig wouldn't be one to pick out as a potential cracker. Punk cabaret in German (even though I'm sure many will question my epithet "punk cabaret" here, but please, please, for now just let it stand as a very poor marker stone) can test the patience of many I'm sure. But there's something very disarming about the band's determination to both act their age and still be angry, and still try to entertain in a carefree manner. These lads have had enough brickbats thrown at them over the years to create a thick skin and the set (and the manner of the set) was born of many years playing and many years taking the shit in dives. Wry, tough, and - given the amount of instrument swapping - fucking professional in the sense that there were very few gaps in the racket.
We got Positionen and Wir Verlassen Die Erde, and a lot of tracks that mixed grungey Pink Fairies psychedelia with Fall/Devo like stomps. A couple of tracks started to take the piss out of their contemporaries D.A.F., the underlying synth thump being to all intents and purposes the melody from Der Räuber und Der Prins. I wonder how many of the young shavers got that? The drummer (he of the two tone suit) also balanced on his stool in the most laconic of manners with a fag end dangling from his mouth. Marvellous.
Damian: Balthazar was given short shrift I’m afraid as some further official business came up.
Richard: You know, from then on, the afternoon petered out somewhat for me. Balthazar were okay in the tent; I can't say I'm a massive fan of their sound, but their smooth, rich, 90's urban and very Belgian take on pop (for Belgian, for me at any rate, read soulful: as so many bands sound soulful from Belgium, I really don't know why, Deus hangover? Who knows) was nice enough on this afternoon.
Damian: Most of us did find time to join the Dad Dancing throng that swelled in front of Lee Fields & The Expressions.
Richard: Lee Fields was ok from what I saw, but it's not my thing. Over to Damian to run with this one.
Damian: Haldern, can we make a deal where we have at least one pure soul band in the line up every year from now on? After last year’s incredible Charles Bradley performance, the Haldern kids have really gotten into this soul revue type of thing and Lee Fields was welcomed with open arms and dancing legs. His band got everybody worked up pretty quickly so by the time the sharp suited fella strode on stage, the crowd was already swaying somewhat. Within seconds arms were waving in the air like they just didn’t care and a dust bowl was being created from the amount of foot shuffling going on in front of the stage. Lee Fields was excellent, and his band were really impressive. Although the keyboard player needs to cheer up a bit, that’s for sure and across the whole set there were probably one or two more ballads than I would have liked personally but no matter; we were dancing, we were singing and we were all talking about ‘the love’ for a while afterwards. Great stuff.
Allah-Las were shit, however. Well no, that’s not fair. They certainly got the girls dancing – the mirror tent was filled with hippy dippy girls swaying from side to side - but frankly they bored the shit out of us. They do their thing quite well, but they do it over and over and over and over again and frankly, it’s just too damn relaxed and bland for us. And while they may remind us of The Animals, they’re not in the same league. Not by a long stretch.
Richard: They bored me senseless, I'm sorry. I really don't understand what they get from sounding exactly like the Animals or the Hollies. 1964 is a long time ago. Let's leave it there.
Damian: We weren’t looking forward to Tom Odell either, if we’re totally honest, and my own personal fear of having to listen to Another Love another bloody time this year made me want to hide away in the press tent for a while but I thought I’d give him the benefit of the doubt and I’m glad I did. He actually impressed me quite a bit – his terrible Honky Tonk Woman cover aside (still trying to wipe that from my mind I can't - Richard) - and I found myself quite enjoying his company. The crowd fucking loved him, it must be said and although I still wouldn’t class myself a fan – his stuff’s just not really my kind of thing – I came away actually quite impressed with him, for what I saw.
Richard: Incredibly, I found Tom Odell pretty enjoyable, if only for the way he gave absolutely everything to the gig, and was smart enough to rely on an extremely good band to put on a show. Whether you think his music is any good is - weirdly enough - irrelevant, and after a while I stopped listening to (or trying to get anything out of) the songs and watched this young lad go hell for leather. Definitely a future pop trouper.
Damian: Team Incendiary gathered at the back of the Spiegel tent to check out Connan Mockasin. He was incredible. He looks weird, he sounds weird and his songs are quite surreal too but he and his band are utterly captivating. It felt like I was watching a man who fell to Earth, some kind of alien life form , communicating through some familiar yet undistinguishable musical language. I’m not sure I understood most of it, but I was transfixed by it, that’s for sure. He’s one to watch, make no mistake.
Richard: Things really picked up with Connan Mockasin, Damian's right there. The undulating rhythms and counter melodies in his music cast an intoxicating spell over the tent. He's an interesting character for sure, and the music seemingly coming from a whole cornucopia of elements and inspirations. It's as if his music is a sort of secret that you just can't pin down; being a mellifluous, dreamy mesh that seemingly is only interested in itself.
When that gnomic/gnostic approach works it can be spellbinding, and at that moment things clicked in the tent, people got out there to a considerable extent, some dozing off in a sort of happy trance; carried along by the whole thing. Anyway, things were also getting loose on the festival site: people were wandering around, grazing on fast food and music alike; it was that point on the Saturday when Haldern starts to morph into some kind of Narnia and all considerations of time and space are pushed from the memory.
Damian: Villagers turned up on the main stage and proved to us that they can handle the bigger stages now, pulling off a fairly polished and crowd friendly set
Richard: SAVE ME from the relentless wistfulness of Villagers' harmonies. They did me in frankly. I can see why they are a big proposition, but Damian, I'm going to disagree now, I thought their vibe didn't translate to the big stage: and at times they sounded lumpen and unconvincing.
Damian: Fair enough! We must in any case reserve some praise for The Strypes, who were bloody marvellous. I tell you, their guitar player is a child genius. Hell, they’re all kids, barely old enough to buy beer in Europe but they do that whole energetic spiky indie thing with real aplomb. Their show was a relentless blast of energy from start to finish and they turned us old farts into a sweaty mess by the end of their set. Woo and indeed hoo.
Richard: You know when I said let's leave the past in the past? Well, I'll let The Strypes off. Just this once. They provided the lift the soporific evening needed and signalled at louder, naughtier things that would happen in the night time. The mists may have been drawing in over the plain, but in the tent, it was 1965-6, or 1977-8, or 2002-3. And so what; their buzzy fuzzy sound is simple and direct and not really looking to pull up any trees; they could be from Hamburg, Austin or Greater London in 65 or Belfast or Manchester in 77, it matters not. The band have got direct songs (direct from the garage) mostly about girls or being bad or having too much energy, and are a sort of Dinky toy take on Thee Oh Sees' racket, albeit without that manic, Höhe Priester/Lord Krishna Von Golowka magicke Thee Oh Sees can whip up on a whim. Everything bounded along and there were plenty of moments where things looked as if they were about to fall apart but grand; they got there, breathless and happy.
I'm not 16, honest
Damian: Friendship and conversation meant we missed most of Sophie Hunger’s set and then we split up again, some of the team heading over to catch These New Puritans while I made my way down to the front to catch James, which was something I’d been looking forward to for a very long time.
It took them a while to appear, mind, those technical gremlins must have been fiddling about with wires and stuff once again but no matter, they eventually wandered on stage to the sound of the Teddy Bear’s Picnic somewhere close to half past midnight but my were they worth the wait.
I’ve been a fan of the band for more than 20 years and yet I’d never had the chance to see them live before. At Haldern, they were fantastic. From the opening Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) through to the delightfully reworked Sit Down (which became a kind of ballad, for the most part) and the frantic, bonkers, dad dancing stage invasion that brought Sometimes to an exhilarating close, James were everything I could have hoped for.
Sure, they only played a handful of songs I would have liked to hear, but the band’s back catalogue is vast and strong enough for me to know that this was exactly what I would have felt no matter what the setlist contained. But still, it was worth it for the Dad Dancing, if nothing else and Tim Booth is a true leader of the Dad dancers and he also looks like Ming The Merciless now, so extra bonus points for that.
I sang till my voice was sore. I danced till my feet and legs no longer ached from standing up all day and I grinned like a Cheshire cat from start to finish. As did everybody else around me. I felt bloody marvellous, as did everybody else around me. I even got a hug from Mr Booth himself when he jumped down into the crowd, which was a nice touch, and the amount of people clamouring onto the stage to join them at the end should serve as proof alone as to just how much fun their set was. For me, personally, this was a magical hour and a half. I saw a band I’ve loved for many years playing songs I love in a place I love with a great crowd and the band sounded utterly fantastic as well. And how can you not love a show where some guy gets pulled out from the crowd wearing a top hat with lights on it and who then starts waving a giant red balloon-like contraption above his head? That and the sight of Ming the Merciless and Jesus entering into a dance-off competition. I tell you, sometimes……
Richard: I missed James. I saw them in 1987 or 1988 and whilst I sort of dug them at the time and was happy for them to be a part of the alternative canon I never really bothered with them. Oh, yeah I forgot: add this indifference to the memory of preening twits sitting down in on dance floors in places like Middlesbrough, Bedford and Blackburn when Sit Down came on back in the early 1990s also still annoys. Unfair on James, unfair on me, maybe, but life's daft like that. So off I went back to the tent to catch These New Puritans who are currently on a roll with their marvellous LP Field of Reeds. Their air of untrammelled seriousness has in the past rubbed me up the wrong way; but that shouldn't stop anyone checking out their brilliant records Hidden and the aforementioned Field... I really think they've hit a mainline to their creative wellspring.
As to the gig: it was a shame it couldn't have been extended for an extra 20 minutes. I know I slagged off the church gigs, but for me, this show would have been bonkers in the church, and should have been an hour set. The set began quietly too, so quietly that a few bemused faces were looking round the tent to see if they had actually started. Once up and running though, their kranky, quirky, beguiling music started to hit home. It has to be said that this mix of brass, strings, percussion and keys sounds perfect and very much music of, and out of its time. They've created a loose, bric a brac sound that somehow rattles along in a very appealing way. A serious, but counter-academic take on English Rhythm n Boogie. Not everyone got it in the tent, however, after the Strypes it was a real oddball choice, but as ever with Haldern it was intriguing.
Damian: It took me a while to come down after James, (apologies to Owen Pallett) and the rest of Team incendiary were spreading the love backstage I’m told...
Richard: Hmm yes.. Though we DID catch some of Owen Pallett who was fabulous, far tougher than the (excellent) gig he put on at Haldern a few years previous.
However, we must report that some of Incendiary magazine had somehow left their senses in a field and were trying to avoid crotchets and quavers that skipped along the top of the audience's collected heads, changing colour as Pallett revved up his sensory assault to one that was tough and often uncompromising. I'll be honest, there are only two things I can remember about this gig. One is that Pallett's Muse is not as spindly or as fragile as it once was. It's getting (or in the gloaming of the tent seemed to get) all John Cale on our arse. The second is that the sound was so incredibly rich that we had to get out; mainly because these physical almost bullying notes (which were in turn allied to the richness of the sound) were forcing us out to the field behind the stage, like over protective guard dogs. They'd sensed we'd not given Owen Pallett sufficient attention in the past, that we thought his stuff was that bit wet. We fled in a giggling terror. Time to cool it.
Damian: I pulled myself together in time to witness the extraordinary Metz. Sometimes things go wrong when you’re on tour – in this case, Metz had arrived in Germany ok but their equipment had not, and so their instruments had been begged and borrowed from Bear’s Den I’m led to believe – but sometimes when things go wrong it can result in something going unexpectedly right. Let me tell you, Bear’s Den’s instruments didn’t know what hit them. Metz were a screaming howl of American punk. Thrashy, trashy and unbelievably powerful they simply tore the Spiegel Zelt apart. Security guards freaked out, they simply weren’t used to seeing such primal, rabid moshing round these parts. The crowd moved as one. A flowing, bouncing, energetic mess of sweat, fury and emotional release. It was epic! Honestly, Metz were sensational. The crowd were astonishing. I haven’t seen a mosh pit this large in many a year. It was truly fierce, truly energizing and truly extraordinary to behold.
The drummer, dear me, what a drummer. He was a machine. A MACHINE! The singer/guitarist and bass player were dripping with sweat almost from the off, drowning in it even, but the drummer? No matter how hard, how fast and how strong he played – and he did all three, that’s for sure – had hardly a drip on him. That guy must be as fit as a boxer.
“We’d love to come back and play again for you guys someday. This time with our own instruments. They sound completely different to this……Well, a little bit.” I’m not sure what they could do with their own instruments that would be as powerful as what they produced in that tent at around 3am. They simply destroyed everything in their path. The frustration they’d had from the logistical fuck ups of the day seemed to flow through them. It was an unfamiliar setting for them, with unfamiliar tools to rely on and they simply knocked it out of the park. What a way to end a remarkable day. I’ll not forget it in a hurry, that’s for sure.
Richard: Sing Hosanna! Damian's right for once! Once Mr P had gone we crept back in for Metz, whose loud smoking LP we all dig. We were expecting an assault and we got it; this time, in our heightened state and happy in the knowledge that we knew what was coming, we didn't fear any notes or strange visions conjured up by the music. Instead we contented on trying to find a way to dance sensually (with the accent on sensual) to the howling gale of noise that Metz ripped out. If their racket is occasionally suffocating on record it's utterly enervating live; people went berserk, even accepting my sensual Cleopatra dance in the mosh pit. This felt good, and not even the over excited bouncers could dampen any good feelings. Given that the band had lost all their stuff on the way over and had to get a whole set of kit together an hour beforehand, and given the utterly committed, screamingly hard show they gave, and the good vibes they created, that was one heroic gig.
Getting back to the tent proved somewhat tricky and involved watching some garlic sauce turn into chalk before our very eyes, but we did it. We did it.